The Boy and the Beast
(Bakemono no Ko)
Dir. Mamoru Hosoda
WARNING: This ‘Toon Critique may contain spoilers.
The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) is about a Boy (Ren/Kyuuta) who runs away from his home in the city of Shibuya (human realm) because he feels rejected by his family. He happens upon a doorway to an animal realm (Shibuten) whose inhabitants are animals. He becomes a disciple for the Beast (Kumatetsu) who is vying to replace the current Lord. Both characters have need of the other in order to overcome their individual hangups. Problem is, they drive each other crazy.
Hosoda takes the ‘coming of age’ story and attempts to bring something new. For the most part, it works. The story is wonderfully nuanced, and fun and energetic despite the protagonist’s (Ren/Kyuuta) concerns. The relationship between Boy (Ren/Kyuuta) and Beast (Kumatetsu) is truly wonderful. There are problems though. Tying together the relationship between the two realms is a little flimsy. Ren’s relationship with Kaede (Love interest from human realm) doesn’t develop convincingly. A cute furry creature (Chiko) is arguably pointless. And in the last quarter of the film, a relatively unexplored antagonist abruptly alters the flow of the story as it struggles to change gears.
The film looks great. Colours are vivid; animation smooth; backgrounds sharp (in some instances they look real!). Design is solid. Shibuya looks like a city. So much so it’s easy to overlook the level of detail in the frame. Pause the screen and you’ll see the layers and levels. Shibuten (animal realm) could have been fleshed out a little more. It didn’t need to be a commentary, but some of the scenes could have taken place in a wider variety of locations. It is, after all, more interesting than a city inhabited by humans. The lead characters (Ren/Kyuuta and Kumatetsu) are superbly crafted. There’s a wonderful duality about the pair that reflect each other’s qualities. The characters of Shibuten were varied and interesting. Those of Shibuya were a little lacklustre particularly Kaede (Ren’s love interest).
The animation is sleek. Movement is smooth. There’s plenty of unexpected natural interruptions of character motion for instance slipping over in a doorway, or scrambling up stairs. These finer details add a depth to the realism. Character facial expressions are very strong particularly of the leads. Hosoda flaunts his understanding of film technique with ease. Mute the film and the story still carries.
Initially the music was vibrant and adventurous. It was unobtrusive and supportive. That changed by the end of the film. Instead it dominated the action scenes and cheapened the thrill of the battle. Character voices were excellent. Particularly the newcomer Koji Yakusho who voiced Kumatetsu. The dexterity and depth of his range is superb. He’s the next big thing in anime talent.
The film examines the clash between man and beast which resides in all of us which is particularly fierce while growing up. It’s a refreshing, courageous and comforting insight into examining ‘the self’ in relation to the choices we all have to make. It’s an encouraging gift to younger audiences who seek personal power in the ‘mefirst’ system we currently live in. It’s a reminder to us all that the raging beast of our being is most powerful when we lead with our hearts. If you’re a fan of Summer Wars or Wolf Children (one of my favourites), then you’ll likely enjoy Mamoru Hosoda’s latest creation. He has cemented himself as a unique artist among the thousands of storytellers in the anime kingdom. Though the film is enjoyable, it falls short of being great.